Dyldam Parramatta Eels Head Coach Brad Arthur says the media speculation surrounding recruitment in the past few weeks hasn’t distracted his squad from a pre-season that’s been nine months in the making.
As Arthur calls them, “rumours” about players coming and going at Eels HQ or over at their Round One opponents, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, are the least of his worries heading into the Blue and Gold’s first Premiership game of the season.
“I don’t want to comment on rumours, I don’t comment on recruitment,” Arthur said.
“I just want to come to work, coach the boys and go home, that’s me. Simple.”
“I’ve got too much to worry about with our team. I’ve got plenty of distractions, which is getting 17 players right for [Friday night’s game against] Manly.”
"We’ve been planning for this pre-season since halfway through last season; we’ve got a new strength and conditioning coach, Paul Devlin, who’s done a really good job and the players have put a lot of effort into their physical preparation.”
That effort has seen halfback Chris Sandow trim down to just over 80 kilos, even with a lightened training load in February due to an ankle injury he suffered on the final day of the NRL Auckland Nines.
“He’s 100% [fit],” Arthur said.
“Maybe we could have played him in the Penrith trial but we didn’t see it was a necessity.”
“He’s the lightest he’s ever been, and after 3 to 4 weeks sitting on the sideline he came back at our first conditioning session and was leading the pack. I just hope he takes that onto the field.”
Arthur points to the Eels’ trial win against the Penrith Panthers in February as an example of where the Blue and Gold will need to lift on Friday night as they look to open their 2015 account with a win.
“While we thought we played okay against Penrith in the trial, our attack was very rusty and probably we didn’t play with enough energy with the ball.”
The Penrith trial was new recruit Anthony Watmough’s only pre-season hit-out, but Arthur says the Eels’ new number 13 is more than prepared for kick off, and not as hung up on his former club as media coverage would suggest.
“He’s been ready for a long time,” Arthur said.
“We didn’t play him in most of the trials, [even though] he was itching to get a run, and we reduced him to about 40-50 minutes [of game time] at Penrith.”
“His training’s been outstanding, and he’s raring to go.”
“A lot of that (talk about the Sea Eagles) is tongue in cheek,” Arthur added.
“Choc’s very appreciative for his time at Manly and we’ve a had a chat about how he just needs to channel his focus to this team, and once this games over and done with there’ll be no more talk about Manly.”
The Eels head coach has no fears that the Sea Eagles will target their former teammate, believing that professionalism will win out over impulsiveness on Friday night.
“They’re too smart for that [at the Sea Eagles],” Arthur said.
“They’re all good mates and if he (Anthony Watmough) runs into them they might put a little bit extra into their tackle, but they’re not going to go out of their way to go and get him and come out of their defensive structures.”